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Author Topic: What would you do if your baby was taken from you?  (Read 3880 times)
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« on: March 22, 2013, 05:04:58 AM »

JULIA Gillard has apologised to over 150,000 single mums who were forced to give up their babies for adoption in the 1950s and 1970s. Here some of those mums tell their story.

If only Denise Barkey had been able to reach out and touch her tiny newborn daughter's hand, she feels it could have changed the course of her life, and that of the baby she was forced to give away.

But the then 18-year-old, known by her maiden name Denise Weston, was too afraid.

Having been coerced by Queen Victoria Hospital staff into agreeing to sign adoption papers, the thought of touching the baby's little hand, knowing she was about to lose her, was too much for Barkey.

Single and utterly alone, she froze.

"I remember looking in the bassinet and her little hand came free of the bunny rug, and she reached up to me and, God forgive me, I couldn't take her little hand," says Ballarat-raised Barkey, sobbing as if that moment 40 years ago happened only yesterday.

"I was followed around the hospital by women who told me that if I signed the (adoption) papers I would make a young couple very happy, because they were unable to have children; I was told I could have my own children if I wanted them later on, and if I really loved this baby (I would give her up).

"They kept at me and at me until finally I gave in. I had no money, no family support. In a word I had nothing. I was so scared and very, very confused."

Barkey's mother had told her siblings - including her 19-year-old married sister who had also just had her first baby - that Barkey's baby had died. The baby's father was prevented by his family from coming near her.

But in a small act of kindness, the matron on duty at Melbourne's Queen Victoria Hospital that day in 1972 had told Barkey that if she didn't see her baby, she would always wonder what she looked like.

It was unusually compassionate, given many of about 150,000 Australian single mothers forced by state and federal policies to give up babies for adoption between the 1950s and '70s were told their babies had died at or soon after birth, only to have their trauma worsened years later when they discovered the lie.

Other mothers were physically restrained from touching their babies during birth, or sedated with heroin to keep them quiet as babies were whisked away, or even had pillows put over their faces to control them while babies were removed. Some say they had their signatures on adoption papers forged.

The trauma and shame caused by these women's first experience with motherhood has shattered thousands of lives - mothers, fathers and children.

In a heart-rending piece for Sydney's Daily Telegraph, adoptee Paul Howse, secretary of the AWU, described how profoundly being taken from his mother had affected him, and how, when he found her just after he turned 30, he "was incredibly saddened and utterly distressed by her story".

Yet only now is the suffering of the women and their children being acknowledged by Australian governments, hospitals, charities and church groups who worked together under policies of the day to take their babies away. Many mothers want the words "unethical and unlawful" removal of babies included in any federal apology.

For Barkey, the chance to see her baby for an instant in a corridor outside the hospital nursery was a moment that has haunted her since. She named the baby Cheryl, after a friendly nurse, and was then tipped out "with nothing, to nothing", and told to get on with her life "as if it never happened".

Perhaps worse, Barkey, like many other single mothers, was not informed by the state authorities who engineered her baby's adoption that she had 30 days to change her mind and rescind permission. She discovered this by chance and fought to find and reclaim Cheryl, but was blocked by obstructive officers of the then director-general of social welfare.

The tattered, much folded and unfolded adoption paper Barkey signed in a shaky hand never leaves her bag. "This was sky blue once," says Barkey, tears streaming. She says it was reading the announcement of the State Government apology that prompted her to write to the Herald Sun, detailing her pain and shame.

"This is all I had, for years and years, to tell me that I'd had a baby. When I look at the signature I just see a little girl; I didn't know I could have got her back, they never told me."

Though it seems incredible that 18-year-old women were going through this inhumane treatment as late as the 1970s (laws changed in 1974 to introduce support for single mothers and help them keep their babies) it was far from uncommon.

According to Jo Fraser, secretary of the support group the Association of Relinquishing Mothers (ARMS) Victoria - herself a "relinquishing" mother - such was the stigma and distress experienced by the young, single women forced to adopt that many never properly recovered.

Some lost themselves in alcohol or drug abuse, others were so convinced they were unworthy of being mothers that they never had more children. And, tragically, some have also committed suicide.

Fraser knows of two such women who took their lives before last Christmas - as governments, church and charity agencies and women's hospitals prepared to make official apologies for the decades of suffering their programs caused.

The NSW Government apologised in September and the Victorian Government on October 25. The Federal Government and many charities, church dioceses and hospitals will then follow suit.

This gesture is welcomed by many mothers, including Fraser, but others feel it will never compensate them for lives ruined and pain that never stops. One group of regional mothers has petitioned the Victorian Government to go so far as to admit their babies were "abducted", as they insist they were.

LYN Kinghorn, a tall and quietly spoken mother of five, including one baby forcibly removed from her as a young single woman, fought physically to keep her first-born child.

Having conceived at 17, she was allowed by hospital staff to care for her baby daughter Christine for a week, and she knew she wanted to keep her. She describes the birth and days after it as "a love affair, I was in heaven".

"I spent every minute I could with her. And then they came and said, 'Look she's too small, we'll have to put her in the prem nursery'. I went and stayed in the prem nursery with her, and when I held her she would be banging her little head against my chest (seeking milk - but mothers whose records were marked A, for adoption, were also prevented from breastfeeding)."

Kinghorn felt she had displayed the maternal skills to warrant being given a chance, but was eventually dragged from her baby by hospital staff and sent to an inner-Melbourne home for unwed mothers to recover. She did not give up easily.

"I know I showed my capability to care for my daughter," she says. "And I was absolutely, you know what a love affair it was. When they came to take me away, I just said, 'No, no, no'. I ran to a sister asking her for help, and she put her arm around me and said, 'Go home and be a good girl'. I was dragged out screaming ... on my daughter's little nursery card it said she vomited all day the day after we were separated."

When Kinghorn got back to the Richmond women's home, the matron said simply, "I hope you learnt your lesson".

For Kinghorn, it is vital that any state apology acknowledges that babies were not given up voluntarily. "It was definitely not consent, it was absolutely forcible. My child was abducted to be adopted. I want the truth to be told," says Kinghorn, who lives with her husband in regional Victoria.

She was told by agency staff caring for her, and also by her parents, that if she did not sign adoption papers her daughter would grow up in an orphanage.

"You felt like you had the whole world against you, and they made you feel so shameful," says Kinghorn.

The father of Kinghorn's baby daughter was told by his parents that he would go to jail if he went near Kinghorn - "he was absolutely gotten rid of". But he wrote to the recent Senate inquiry into the Commonwealth Government's Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices, detailing his pain.

He told the inquiry how the trauma of losing a baby saw him get stuck into alcohol. He wanted to keep the baby and he said that.

Like other mothers spoken to by Weekend, Kinghorn says having a baby taken, and not knowing whether he or she lived or died, has an even more devastating emotional toll than a baby dying at or soon after birth.

"It's excruciating, you can't have another child to replace a child. I (also) lost a stillborn baby and it's nothing like that. That's something that happens and you deal with it. But you never deal, never get over (having a baby taken) - there's nothing we can do to fill the gap in our lives," Kinghorn says.

Maldon mother Janet Tough's medical records show she was dosed with heroin to sedate her during the process of separating her from her baby.

"During my pregnancy I was traumatised by every visit I made to the Royal Women's Hospital," she says. I was constantly battered with the idea that I had no choice but to surrender my child. The social worker was unqualified and gave no counselling, I was in trauma." Tragically, Tough never had more children.

"I'd go home and I'd be crying all the way through my pregnancy, because I was divided by my instinct to love my child and them saying to love my child would be to surrender my child. And that conflict within me drove me mad. It's affected my mental health."

Tough was so fearful that any future babies may be taken away she had herself sterilised.

"It was my only pregnancy, because at 23 I had my tubes tied to make sure it would never happen again. Because I was unconscious when they took him ... I thought, 'How could I stop them doing that if I got pregnant again?' "

Tough is one of a group of mothers who have met with the Victorian Minister for Community Services, Mary Wooldridge, to tell her any apology will only have a healing effect if it acknowledges babies were in many cases "abducted", not given up. In Tough's case, she had a caesarean and was never shown her son.

Groups including ARMS also want compensation including specialised counselling and easier access to information that will help mothers and babies locate each other. Victoria is the only state in which mothers are not given identifying information about babies removed from them, and mothers want laws changed to conform with those in other states.

For Tricia Lester, who was sent by her Sydney parents to a church family in Melbourne until she gave birth alone in 1972, words will not be enough to compensate for what she and her son went through.

She says many mothers have extreme difficulty now in their struggle to locate children, because of the illegal way in which some adoption papers were prepared.

"The authorities would say, 'Put another name, don't put your name because this is a shame - (do it so) it can never be traced back to you'.

"They said to me, 'Destroy all the papers, you don't need this, if you marry a man and he finds these papers he'll know'. As if I'm going to marry someone and not tell him I've had a child before!"

Her story, of being abandoned by parents and of being treated like "a blot, a nuisance to be dealt with" is no less heartbreaking than the rest.

It may only be the years of counselling, which started when Lester developed bulimia as a result of the trauma, that enables her to recount her story without the tears that pour down Barkey's face.

Lester, who now has a strong relationship with her son, says funding must be made available to introduce specialised grief counselling for other mothers, and that the State Government's apology must be unconditional: "I want them to say, 'I'm sorry, it shouldn't have happened'. And I want them to acknowledge it was wrong."


Donor conceived adult from Perth, Western Australia. Searching for a donor who donated to Dr Colin Douglas-Smith in 1976.
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« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2013, 05:07:01 AM »

I know this has little to do with donor conception but I do see some similarities. It's about separation of family, but worse because of the forced aspect and government involvement.

Donor conceived adult from Perth, Western Australia. Searching for a donor who donated to Dr Colin Douglas-Smith in 1976.
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« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2013, 02:38:39 AM »

you're not the only one to see the similarities Adam:

Donor children must not be forgotten
   Melinda Tankard Reist
   From: Sunday Herald Sun
   March 31, 2013 12:00AM

WHEN Lauren Burns listened to the Prime Minister's national apology to those who suffered forcible adoption, she wanted to ask: what about me?

It wasn't that the 29-year-old Melbourne woman didn't find the speech moving. She believes the mothers and children so cruelly separated deserved the apology.
But she, and so many like her, felt left out. Lauren is one of thousands of children (exact figures are not known - in the beginning records weren't kept) born as the result of donor sperm or eggs, who believe they too have been denied an opportunity to know their biological parents.
It was these words which most affected her: "To each of you who were . . . denied the opportunity to grow up with your family and community of origin, we say sorry. We acknowledge that many of you still experience a constant struggle with identity, uncertainty and loss and feel a persistent tension between loyalty to one family and yearning for another."
"I found it incredible that the Government was apologising to adopted people for the very things that are still happening via donor conception and surrogacy," Lauren says.
"It was frustrating that almost nobody except us could see that by simply inserting 'donor conception' for 'adoption', the PM could have been speaking to us. She promised no generation of Australians would suffer the same pain and trauma they did. But it's not true."
Many donor-conceived children feel they are treated as inferior citizens, especially when secrets continue to be legally protected. There are no uniform regulations in Australia. In Victoria you're guaranteed access to your donor's identity only if you were born after 1998. Those born from 1988 to 1998 get access only if the donor consents. The rest have little hope. All they can do is put their names on a voluntary register and hope their donor does too.
Melbourne father Ross, 35, (surname withheld by request) describes an "enduring yearning" to know his genetic father.
"I know how tall he was, his eye and hair colour, complexion and blood type. A pretty lousy list when you consider what a father has the potential to be. But at the moment, it's all I have," he says.
Some think that's enough. Dr Doug Keeping of the Queensland Fertility Group says: "The code of secrecy has worked well for 25 years. Why spoil it for fairly theoretical reasons?"
Donor offspring don't think their reasons for wanting to know their biological parents are theoretical.
Lauren says: "There is a commonly held belief that since we were so wanted by our social parents, our biological kinship links shouldn't matter. But there is still a loss experienced from not knowing biological family and not being able to trace where your looks, personality or interests come from."
Ross describes the battle of the donor conception community against the profitable reproductive technology industry as being like an "anchovy against a whale".
Lauren says she knows of a donor-conceived man who felt so much like a product he had a bar code tattooed on the back of his neck. And how is someone conceived from an egg donated in Eastern Europe, sperm donated in the US and born to an Indian surrogate mother supposed to find all the people involved in creating them?
Lauren found her father three years ago after a five year search. Holders of her records refused to hand them over because of legal advice. With the intervention of the then Victorian Governor, David de Kretser, (her mother's treating doctor), her donor was found. While Lauren still has time to develop the relationship, a friend had merely four weeks.
Lauren and other donor-conceived offspring are grieving the loss of Melbourne social worker Narelle Grech, who died this week of cancer, aged 30. An advocate for retrospective rights to information about their biological identity, she was denied information about her biological father, Ray Tonna, for whom she searched for 15 years. But because she was dying, former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu intervened and her father was found. Tonna and son Zac found and lost a daughter and sister in the space of a month.
The co-ordinator of the Donor Conception Support Group, Caroline Lorbach, says she is sad and angry the system made Grech fight for information which should have been hers.
The group is waiting for Victoria's response to the Parliamentary Law Reform Committee 2012 report's recommendation that all donor-conceived people know the name of their donor, no matter when they were born.
"I hope the Government decides it needs to open up all the records so that no one else has to go through what Narelle did," Lorbach says. If we acknowledge the pain of those forcibly removed from parents, then the pain of these children must be acknowledged also.
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« Reply #3 on: April 02, 2013, 04:10:12 AM »

Thanks for posting that as I do not have a login.

I appreciate such a story being in the media which reflected my views in this posting. Smiley

Donor conceived adult from Perth, Western Australia. Searching for a donor who donated to Dr Colin Douglas-Smith in 1976.
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